By Len Lazarick
Legislative auditors issued a damning report about lax and possibly illegal financial practices at Baltimore City Community College, an institution already under state pressure to fix its dwindling enrollment and improve its management.
BCCC is the only one of the state’s 16 community colleges directly under state sponsorship and funding.
The report by the Office of Legislative Audits found:
- procurements split up into smaller purchases to avoid competitive bidding and oversight by state and college officials;
- large payments to contractors without detailed invoices to back them up;
- contracts to allegedly competing businesses actually run by the same family;
- questionable purchases with state credit cards without backup documentation;
- allegations of financial improprieties that were not referred for criminal investigation;
- pay raises to senior management making six-figures that were not approved by the college board of trustees,
- a $25,000 bonus given without any documentation that the employee fulfilled the conditions for the bonus;
- poor inventory control over computers and other college equipment, that may or may not be missing;
- lack of protection for sensitive personal information such as social security numbers and dates of birth in college databases;
- inadequate malware protection for college computers.
“These procurement practices allowed certain questionable purchasing activity to occur … without detection,” head state auditor Thomas Barnickle wrote in his letter sending the report to the co-chairs of the legislature’s Joint Audit Committee. “We also identified questionable payments totaling $73,900, such as payments for maintenance services performed in rooms or on equipment that did not exist.”
Auditors passed along some of these transactions to the attorneys general’s office for possible criminal prosecution, something the college itself was supposed to do after its own investigation of tips on the college hotline.
As usual with these state audit reports, no individuals are named as being at fault.
Four repeat findings
The report covered the period from October 2013 to November 2016. Four of the seven major findings about faulty procurement practices, credit card purchases, inadequate safeguards for personal information in databases and lack of malware protection were repeats from a similar audit three years ago. This means the same problems had gone uncorrected for years.
In the college’s response to the findings at the back of the report, it largely concurred with the auditor’s recommendations for changed practices, and said it had already done so in some cases.
But breaking with the polite protocol in most audit reports, the auditors challenged the college’s assertion that it already had policies and procedures to fix the problems, such as the sharing of corporate credit cards.
“When we brought this issue to BCCC’s attention during the audit, there was no evidence to suggest that BCCC was aware that employees were sharing corporate purchasing cards or had identified the extent of the related activity,” the auditors said.
In another instance, in which the college said it did not concur with the auditor’s recommendation on pay raises, the college insisted: “Any salary increases or incentive pay, pursuant to an employment contract, were approved by the BCCC Board of Trustees.”
But the auditors said: “On numerous occasions during the course of our audit, we requested evidence of these approvals but it was never provided.”
Legislature increases oversight
Because of longstanding problems at BCCC, Dels. Adrienne Jones, the speaker pro-tem from Baltimore County, and Maggie McIntosh, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee from Baltimore City, pushed through legislation this year reconstituting the college’s board, setting up requirements for the college president and requiring annual reports of progress.
In a joint appointment by the House speaker and Senate president, former Baltimore Kurt Schmoke, now president of the University of Baltimore, chairs the BCCC board. The current president, Gordon May, has announced his resignation at the end of the year.